What Is The Difference Between Productive And Non-Productive Practicing?

by kindbeats on January 19, 2015

Andrew McAuley: When I think of productive practicing, I think of going into a session with a goal in mind. Whether it is working on a weakness, learning a piece, or simply trying to explore new ideas, I believe a productive practice is one that will make you grow on the instrument or just as a musician in general. For me, the antithesis of having a productive session (an extremely common occurrence which I am often guilty of myself) is one where you are simply going through the motions and staying within your comfort zone. When something becomes second nature, why spend all of your practice time rehashing it?

Steve McHugh: Andrew: That is an EXCELLENT question, and one which I still give a lot of thought to. After all of these years of playing and practicing, I still have practice sessions that I feel very good about, and others in which I end up thinking “I wish I had practiced differently because………” But, here are just a couple of ideas about practice: NOODLING DOES NOT COUNT AS PRACTICING. If you go into a practice room, and essentially just play around with ideas that you already know, then I would characterize this as “noodling.” This is why I am such an advocate for learning to read music. I go through page after page of study material, because I want to be forced to be exposed to ideas that would not have otherwise occurred to me on my own. Secondly, I generally feel MUCH better about the practice sessions in which I remain very relaxed, and play everything as perfectly as possible, even if it means playing SLOOOOOWLY…… Sometimes in my ambition to increase the tempos on things that I am working on, I will make the mistake of setting the metronome where I THINK I should be playing an exercise, and consequently, I realize after the practice session that I was practicing with too much tension. My guess is that you will receive a lot of very interesting answers to your question, but I would say that these are the 2 main points that I would like to contribute: 1) Make sure that you are actually PRACTICING, and not just noodling; and 2) Be sure to practice things very cleanly and RELAXED.

Phil Salvatti: productive is when you sit at drums, pick up sticks and actually hit them. Non productive- is, you sit at drums, then the phone rings, you get off the phone, now your hungry. Then the tv goes on, you eat, then after that, you grab your keys then leave. Yep.

Shaun Oster: All playing is useful, whether live or an imaginary concert for your neighbors. That being said, having the courage to both admit and face 1-2 weaknesses per day and nurture them into familiarity and guess what? You can play the best you have have tonight because you expanded your vocabulary.

Gootch Ibarra: I consider myself productive in practicing for a purpose. Learning material for a gig or show … very specific. Early on I put in massive hours because I was in school specifically for drums ( M.I.) so my schedule was literally play 10-12 hours a day … I was blessed with a lock out room. But I had my share of jam out practice that honestly didn’t improve me that much. I had a teacher who focused me in practice technique and set a 1hr ever day exercise plan that I stuck to for 3 yrs and that improved me greatly. I’m fairly disciplined when I’m task oriented. So I like regimented practice
1. 30min hands warm up
2. 30min full kit warm up
3. Break
4. 1-2 hour of core exercises ( whatever it is you are trying to learn or improve specific to a beat or independence or skill concept ( New Breed took up a lot of time for me )

If that type of time commitment is not realistic an hour EVERYDAY is a miracle worker just do the math. Over 300 hours a year on a specific methodology or skill is considerable but it has to be consistent.
Sorry … to answer the question a good practice session is focused and goal intensive as opposed to a bad session that is random and unfocused with no discipline. Learning to improv doesn’t fit into an unfocused category though.

Jon Berger: when you beat yourself up , when you give up challenging an idea, becuase of some sort of frustration , self doubt.However if other practice sessions are fueled by self reflection, redetemrination, self empowerment, encourgaement by a teacher or friend, they are all productive.IMHO every time we try it is a learning experience , a teaching moment. From this moment on.

Reuben Paul Shipp: I always close my eyes, this is non productive- if I can keep my eyes open and look at what I’m doing- then this is productive. Playing eyes closed dreaming away is the bane of my drumming and after 40 years you’d think I’d get it but no. As soon as I hear the drums my eyes close.

Stuart S Buchman: For the most part, just about every practice session should be productive. That’s the whole idea of practicing. When it becomes a dope-smoking session, then it’s non-productive because the players get roasted and so does the music.

Stephen Silvia: Reuben … have you tried to literally write ” keep your eyes open ” on your snare drum head … obviously it won’t work if your eyes are closed but it will still be there , maybe in the back of your mind.

Good practice sessions mean I and/or the band are a little bit better than three hours ago

Jim Greiner: The Four Ps Of Practicing (from my Rhythm Power® Blog):
Practice has its own fundamentals, just as any skill in Life. I’ve spent quite a bit of time “practicing” percussion (quite a bit!), and I’d like to share with you the fundamentals of practicing that I’ve discovered. Feel free to apply these to any and all practices… including the Practice Of Life!
1) Purpose
Create a clear vision of what you want to do. What are your long-term goals? Then break them down into manageable short- and mid-term goals.
2) Plan
Create a routine and specific actions. Set regular days and times to spend on the activity, and know what you will do during each session. Your practice will become “habitualized” and a regular part of your life… something to look forward to as a satisfying and rewarding time. Of course, include time to be flexible and to experiment.
3) Persevere
Keep to your Purpose and your Plan. Every time we break a routine, it becomes easier to break it again, and to feel that we are unreliable… which makes it easier to break it again! Every time we practice our activity as planned, the opposite happens… we reinforce our feeling that we are a dependable person, which makes us want to live up to our dependable nature!
4 Play
Have fun! We call it “playing” music for a reason! Make any and all Practice into Play. I work on new skills, rhythms and musical styles regularly… I know I am “practicing”, but I always tell myself “I’m going to play now”. This attitude creates an inner environment of eager anticipation! For example, I start every day by breathing deeply several times, giving thanks for all of my blessings, and telling myself, ‘I get to PLAY today!”… even, and especially, when I know much of some days will be spend “playing” in the office to get gigs so I can “play” with, and for, other people!
Our Life Practice is built upon reinforcing rhythms of Attitude and Action that help us create the Life we WANT to live. We reinforce positive Life Rhythms by repeating the things we want to get good at… through Practice!

Mary Munroe: So if I may sum up: Productive practice is working on that which you don’t yet know or do well. All else is playing?

Andrew McAuley: For the most part, that’s how I would look at it but it isn’t that black and white. Sometimes a productive practice session can come out of a casual playing session. You never know when inspiration may strike. Most ideas that I end up dedicating specific practices to originate during casual sessions. I would never have had one without the other.

Mary Munroe: Well that certainly makes sense. Playing is productive if something productive comes of it.

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